Arctic Ocean is experiencing runaway acidification: AMAP scientists release new report

Ocean acidification could cause some major issues for our world’s seas. It could affect the growth of corals and mussel beds and have unforeseen consequences when it comes to global warming. Now, scientists from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) have announced that the Arctic Ocean is experiencing some serious ocean acidification–and it’s not likely to remedy itself any time soon.

Ocean acidification occurs when CO2 in the atmosphere increases. Since the ocean waves mixes with the air, it also absorbs this gas, which makes it more acidic. This, in turn can cause a variety of issues for ocean ecosystems. It can slow the formation of calcium carbonate shells as it eats away at the shells themselves, and can actually encourage the growth of other species. While this phenomenon is occurring in oceans throughout the world, it’s particularly noticeable in the Arctic.

Absorption of CO2 is particularly fast in cold water, which makes the Arctic extremely susceptible to ocean acidification. In addition, Arctic ice is decreasing at a rapid pace; this exposes more surface area of the ocean to the air and, in consequence, helps increase acidification.

Yet these aren’t the only factors that contribute to the acidification in Arctic waters. As the climate warms, freshwater continues to enter the ocean from melting land ice and rivers. Since freshwater is less effective at chemically neutralizing the acidifying effects of CO2, it merely exacerbates the issue.

Scientists have already found that Nordic seas are acidifying over a wide range of depths. The water nearer to the surface is, understandably, experiencing it the most. However, deep waters are also acidifying. The impact that this might have on marine species is unknown, but it’s likely that it could drastically alter fisheries in the region and, consequently, affect the livelihoods of Arctic peoples.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to curtail this runaway ocean acidification. Even if emissions are completely halted today, it would take thousands of years for the Arctic Ocean chemistry to revert to pre-industrial levels, according to BBC News. Instead, scientists will have to monitor the Arctic in a type of environmental experiment to see how organisms fare as conditions continue to change.

Catherine Griffin, Science World Report, 6 May 2013. Article.

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